Based on the same basic rules as classic arcade game Qix, Fortix 2 attempts to modernize the cobweb-covered formula, adding elements and bits and pieces and extending the premise to cover the length of the campaign, but ultimately comes up short on several bases.
First, let’s give Nemesys Games credit where ‘tis due: Fortix 2 does a lot right: presentation is simple and effective, its bare bones graphics never obfuscating the player’s vision or comprehension of onscreen action. Menus are clean and easy to navigate. Player feedback is unambiguous. This all adds up to an experience that, while problematic for reasons to be expounded upon, is never confusing or unclear: captured territory is clearly captured, the cause of player death and defeat is never unknown, and in-game elements and assets are easily identified through both visual and aural cues.
The problem, then, lies not in the wrapping or trappings, but in the strength of Fortix 2’s core rule: while Qix of yore may have sucked the youth’s quarters dry, spawning sequels and spinoffs, I feel the box-off mechanic is not strong enough to support the weight of a full-length game, short as Fortix 2 is (I completed the main campaign in a little under three hours, though classic Fortix stages and additional difficulties may extend the gameplay time for those interested.)
For those unfamiliar, players control a knight from an overhead perspective, drawing lines (not unlike an Etch-a-Sketch) to encircle and capture territory, eventually engulfing the entire playing field or simply conquering specific objectives to finish off the level. Progress may be impeded by enemy projectiles, hostile creatures, impassable walls, rough terrain, or locked gates; these obstacles may be overcome by capturing powerups, one-use catapults, trapping the threat within the confines of the player’s lines, and collecting color-coded keys. Players are (mostly) safe while on the “baseline,” the solid white borders marking previously captured territory; as a result, strategic decisions involve gauging the player’s ability to make it to a safe line before a dragon/troll/arrow/energy ball is able to make contact with him or the unsecured line trailing him.
The mechanic fails to be engaging for long periods of time because, firstly, it involves a lot of backtracking. Keystrokes for capturing some of the simpler levels may look something like this: WAS, WDS, WAS, WDS, WAS, WDS, lather, rinse, repeat. In other words, walk out into play while threats are not in the area, then, as they change direction and fly toward your avatar, hurriedly turn around and get back to the previously established baseline. It can easily wear thin after a few minutes. A second flaw inherent to the core premise is that the safest, easiest method to win a level is often to just stand there. Since the player is safe on the baseline (with the exception of the bats, which come later on in the game), a gaggle of dragons and flurry of arrows is neither threatening nor exhilarating from a gameplay perspective: just stay still for a few seconds, let them clear out, then continue on your merry way.
When a game’s rules allow the player to be most safe and successful–though not necessarily the fastest or highest scoring–through a combination of excessive backtracking and idling, it’s possible the premise itself is simply not engaging enough to carry a full game, and sadly I think that’s the major flaw with Fortix 2. Now, it’s not totally worthless: there are redeeming moments, especially later on in the game’s more challenging levels, when a well-executed daring capture or unconventional approach to the level can be quite satisfying. Those later levels, too, do begin to show some promise, since the playing fields become more artificially constricted with enemy barriers, forcing the player to strategize a lot more than the open-ended early stages.
Nemesys Games did a great job presenting and packaging the mechanic, with clear, charming graphics, a whimsical soundtrack, and plenty of post-game content, but I wish they had put their minds to something that would have been more worth the effort. As it stands, there’s simply not enough compelling gameplay to recommend Fortix 2 at full price. With some effort, a revamped central mechanic in a sequel would be welcome, considering the obvious talent in Nemesys Games’ team.
Developer: Nemesys Games
Genre: Casual action puzzler
Time: 2-3 hours + postgame content
Gripes: Flawed core mechanic, short campaign
Get it for the: Charm, ease of play, shining presentation
Full disclosure: PXOD received a review copy from Nemesys Games. Completed main story and a few classic levels.